These are dark times. In Eschaton, the latest offering from indie board game developer Archon Games, you play as the leader of a cult seeking to please the fearsome Dark One. This mysterious figure, who has a ram skull for a head and a tattered cloak, is planning a mass immolation of all those who disappoint him. Your job is to grow your cult, take over territories, and collect enough victory points to be spared from the flames.
Eschaton combines area control a la Risk with deck building and victory point accumulation. Players must use the abilities of their cult followers to draw cards, draft recruits, expand the territory they control, and destroy non-believers. Turn order changes each round. A deck of Events (happenings that affect all players) and Omens (short-term assignments from the Dark One to keep you on your toes) adds a randomizing element. The game ends when the Event deck runs out. The cult leader with the most victory points at the end of the game is spared being burned. Developer and artist Adam Watts told us in no uncertain terms that the Dark One does not tolerate ties- this is a game that is made to get ugly.
The somber greyscale art of the game was what drew us to the Archon Games booth at PAX Unplugged. The team enjoys dark aesthetics in general- two of the members are in a metal band. They wanted to create a game that would allow them to stay true to their own style. Tracy Burnham, one of the developers and artists, shared with us during a demo that some of the card designs were created by linoleum block carving and hand printing. Dianne Harrop, who created the character designs for the cultist cards, is primarily a digital artist. Although the art for the game was made by 3 individuals, it’s cohesive and spooky without gore. The overall tone of the game was somewhat inspired by The Seventh Seal (which may explain the Plague game mechanic) and Medieval Biblical history.
Trying Eschaton and learning some of Archon Games’ history made me think of my favorite thing about every convention I’ve ever been to: meeting people who are excited to talk about something they put a lot of time, effort, and love into. It’s not easy to break into an industry increasingly dominated by a handful of large companies. Archon Games has a clear vision and commitment to making games that express their unique voices. If you’re a fan of strategy games like Risk or Lords of Waterdeep and drafting games like Dominion, Eschaton will fit nicely into your collection. An upcoming expansion will add NPC inquisitors to the mix, which should keep the game fresh for seasoned players. Start drawing your pentagram and lighting your candles now, and hope the Dark One shows you mercy.